Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC is a clinician, Naturopathic Practitioner, clinical researcher, author, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport. His work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and he speaks at conferences around the globe.
Protein is Essential for Energy, Muscle and Tissue Repair, and Even Gut Health
Current dietary guidelines only recommend the minimum amount of protein required to prevent deficiency, not to support your gut, build muscle, or promote healthy aging.
A better protein guideline for general health and well-being would be 1.1–1.4g protein/kg of body weight (2.2 lbs).
For most people, shooting for 30–50g protein at every meal (assuming 3 meals per day) is a good target range, depending on your fitness and health goals.
Don’t be intimidated by making a 30g protein breakfast! You can always incorporate protein powders to bump the protein content of smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods, soups, etc.
Research shows that an intake as high as 2.4g/kg per day is safe and healthy, with no adverse kidney side effects, but you should always make sure to drink a lot of water with a higher protein intake.
Both plant and animal protein should be used as part of a whole-foods diet to meet all of your essential amino acid and other nutrient needs.
Want to get more protein in your diet, but not sure how to start? You’re not alone. Unless you’re already tracking your protein intake, it’s likely that you’re undereating the amount of protein you truly need for optimal energy, maintaining muscle mass, and supporting bone, skin, and gut health.
But increasing your protein intake can feel intimidating and even difficult, especially if you’re not getting enough calories in general. Working on increasing your protein intake at breakfast can be a good way to start and slowly adjust to a higher protein intake.
A 30g protein breakfast helps set you up for more energy, a better metabolism, and reduced cravings throughout the day [1, 2, 3, 4]. In this article, we’ll discuss why getting enough protein is important, the real protein requirements for different types of individuals (adults, athletes, seniors, etc.), and how a 30g protein breakfast can help set you up for optimal protein intake and better health.
How Much Protein You Really Need
Proteins are chains of amino acids (called peptides) made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. We need protein for body structure and function, regulating cellular processes, and energy creation . When we eat protein, the body breaks it down into amino acids and uses them for everything from rebuilding muscle to fighting infections to cellular replication.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises 0.8–1g of protein per kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of body weight . For simplicity’s sake, we can average this to 1 gram of protein for half your body weight in pounds. So a 130 lb woman would need about 65 grams of protein per day, and as low as 46 grams per day, if we go by the .8g/kg “rule”.
However, protein experts found that the current RDA for protein in the US and Canada (0.8 g/kg or 46g women/56g men) is an absolute minimum needed to prevent deficiency. This standard is insufficient for the general population, and especially older people, to achieve and maintain general health, general fitness, healthy weight loss, muscle gain, sports performance, and healthy aging.
These researchers determined that a better guideline for general health and well-being would be 1.1–1.4g protein/kg of body weight. For general exercise and fitness and/or healthy aging, this goes up to 1.4–1.8g/kg, and for advanced sport performance and muscle building 1.8–2.2g/kg.
Going back to our 130 lb. woman example, she would need at least 65g of protein per day and up to 83g for general health. If she is moderately active throughout the week, that range goes to 83g-106g/day. If she is actively trying to build muscle and improve performance, that range increases to 106g-130g/day.
Based on the protein and muscle health experts I’ve had the chance to speak to, I would recommend the higher end of the “moderately active” range for most people, since you should be getting in at least a few days of exercise each week. This recommendation also covers aging individuals who need to consider maintaining muscle mass to remain healthy and mobile into their 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond.
This means that most people, depending on weight and performance goals, should be shooting for 30–50 grams of protein per meal, and maybe one high protein snack each day.
If that sounds like a lot of protein, don’t worry! You don’t have to make the shift all at once. This brings us to a 30g protein breakfast — to start your day off right and get your body used to higher protein meals.
Why You Should Aim for a 30g Protein Breakfast
Various studies have found that eating more protein at breakfast tends to:
This appears to be true for kids, teens, and adults. Also, eating more protein at breakfast and less protein at dinner, instead of the other way around, may be better for increasing muscle mass if you’re weight training .
According to one randomized controlled trial (RCT)  and some literature reviews [9, 10], breakfasts containing less than 30 grams of protein may not be able to suppress food intake later in the day. The potential appetite-suppressing effects of a 30g protein breakfast can help those who want to lose weight or tend to get hungry (or hangry) around lunchtime or mid-morning due to blood sugar swings. When that happens, you’re more likely to reach for an unhealthy sugary snack, so stocking up on protein in your breakfast can help prevent that too.
Those dealing with digestive symptoms may also benefit from more protein, and one study showed that participants with gut dysbiosis experienced a shift toward a healthier microbiome after starting a high-protein diet .
Combined with our earlier assessment that most people should be getting somewhere between 30–50 grams of protein per meal per day, we can safely assume that 30g of protein at breakfast is a good target for satiety, energy, healthy muscle, and general health.
Are There Any Downsides to a High Protein Breakfast?
While some of the research is mixed on the effects of high protein breakfasts and appetite, increasing your protein intake has other health benefits, is safe, affordable, and can be easy to implement, so it’s worth trying if you’re looking to lose weight, curb mindless snacking, or support aging muscles .
However, a common concern with high-protein diets is a negative impact on kidney function. Good news: a solid body of research shows NO evidence that high-protein diets (up to 2.4 g protein/kg body weight/day) have a negative impact on kidney function  or bone health  in most people.
As a general rule, if your kidney function is already healthy, increasing dietary protein probably isn’t going to affect it. But if you have renal disease, always check with your doctor before adjusting your protein levels.
Nonetheless, an important point for everyone to understand is that high protein intake increases the amount of urea and other nitrogenous waste that your kidneys must remove through the urine . As a result, you may feel thirstier when you increase your protein intake. Whether or not you feel more thirsty, you need to drink more water to help your kidneys flush the nitrogenous waste and avoid dehydration .
A Quick Note on Animal vs. Plant Protein Sources
In general, we know that animal protein is more bioavailable to the body, meaning that your digestive system can more easily break down and absorb protein from animal sources than it can from plant sources. Animal sources also tend to have more essential amino acids (EAA) than plant sources, especially the EAA leucine . This means you typically have to consume higher amounts of plant protein to get a similar EAA profile as a smaller amount of animal protein.
This doesn’t mean that plant protein is bad by any means, but research suggests that animal and plant protein should not be considered nutritionally interchangeable but complements of each other . On a micronutrient level, plant and animal foods complement each other as well. Many plant foods provide nutrients like phytochemicals, flavonoids, and other antioxidants, while animal foods tend to have higher levels of omega-3s, vitamins, and minerals (again, in general).
From this perspective, I recommend both animal and plant protein sources to achieve your daily needs, with perhaps a slight favor toward animal protein for the majority of your intake for bioavailability. Obviously, if you have an allergy to proteins like whey, shellfish, or nuts, you should avoid those sources, and this is where alternatives can come in handy, such as a high-quality collagen powder or pea protein powder.
Now that we have a quick primer on that, let’s look at some breakfast ideas that provide 30g of protein.
Examples of a 30g Protein Breakfast
Eggs, Sausage, Toast w/ Nut butter
Two eggs and two sausage patties, plus a slice of multigrain toast with a tablespoon or so of nut butter would get you about 30 grams of protein. Add fruit or a side of steamed veggies for those healthy phytonutrients.
Greek Yogurt + Berries + Nut Butter
1 cup of greek yogurt has a whopping 24 grams of protein on its own, plus 2 tablespoons of almond butter would get you to 30 grams. If you didn’t want the nut butter or wanted less yogurt, you could easily stir in collagen or another protein powder to make up the difference. The high protein content in greek yogurt also makes it a great afternoon snack!
Oatmeal w/ Egg Whites + Collagen/Protein Powder
Adding egg whites to your oatmeal might seem a little strange, but it’s a great way to boost protein content if oatmeal is your go-to breakfast. Cook your oatmeal like normal and stir in the egg whites just after cooking. Start with a ¼ cup (about 6.5g protein). A couple scoops of your protein powder of choice should round out the rest of the 30g. Top with fruit and cinnamon — yum!
Protein Smoothie/Meal Replacement Shake
If you’re just starting to increase your protein intake, a protein shake is probably the easiest way to adjust without feeling stuffed after a meal. You can add it to your regular breakfast or use it as a complete meal replacement.
Elemental Heal, our delicious gut-healing meal replacement shake, has 27 grams of protein per serving (whey protein version). With that alone, you’re almost there! A little extra collagen protein or a spoonful of nut butter would get you to 30 grams total. Add-ins like frozen blueberries, greens, bananas, and avocado help make the smoothie more filling and add phytonutrients.
There’s no rule that says you can’t have “dinner” for breakfast if your goal is to hit 30 grams of protein. Plenty of cultures enjoy seafood, hearty soups or stews, beans or lentils, and other foods for breakfast that Americans would normally reserve for lunch or dinner. You might have a leftover grass-fed burger patty, fish filet, or chicken breast — whatever your main protein source, you’re likely to hit 30 grams without even trying.
Mix and Match
If you like to meal prep for the week, here are a few more foods that make an excellent source of protein. Mix and match throughout the week to change up the micronutrients and flavors.
Yogurt, plain, greek, skyr, etc.
Chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
Peanut butter, sunflower butter, etc.
Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, etc.
Black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, etc.
Cheeses, such as aged cheddar, feta, etc.
Here’s a handy chart that breaks down protein content for some of these staples and other high protein foods :
From 1 large egg (1 oz)
1 large (2 oz)
Whey protein powder
1 scoop (20 g)
Cottage cheese (whole milk)
Greek yogurt (whole milk)
Mozzarella (whole milk)
Pistachios (dry roasted)
1 oz (49 kernels)
Cashews (dry roasted)
Pumpkin seeds (dried)
Brown rice (cooked)
Soybeans/ edamame (frozen, prepared)
Black beans (cooked)
Chickpeas (canned, drained)
Pea protein powder
1 scoop (22 g)
Peanut butter (creamy)
Bell pepper (green, raw)
Sweet potato (baked in skin)
1 small (60 g)
¼ cup (4 g)
Zucchini (cooked, sliced)
Dark chocolate (70–85% cacao)
Start Increasing Protein Intake with Breakfast
If you’re looking to increase your protein intake through healthy eating, breakfast is a great place to start. A 30g protein breakfast can set you up for sustained energy, muscle health, and even supports weight loss, if that’s your goal.
If you want to make changes to your diet but feel you need more support, please reach out to us at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine. One of our health coaches would be happy to guide you in reaching your nutrition goals.
The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.
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